Estate Planning for Children With Special Needs
Planning for a Child With Special Needs
Like so many other aspects of parenting a special needs child, there are unique challenges and considerations in setting up your estate plan. It may seem overwhelming, but the good news is that there are tried and true tools available for special needs planning through the use of wills and trusts. You can name guardians and conservators in your will, and establish a special needs trust to protect your disabled child and your entire family long after you are gone. Below are some of the key issues that you should address with your estate planning lawyer.
Guardians and Conservators
Of course, if your child is a minor you will want to name a guardian in your will. Your child with physical or mental disabilities may still need a guardian and/or a conservator after reaching adulthood. In addition, these roles may need to be more specifically described and planned, as there may be some things that your child can manage on his own and others that he cannot. For example, he may be able to live independently and make adult decisions, but not to manage finances,. In that case, you will want to identify someone with legal authority to help with financial decisions.
Chances are this is currently (or will be) you or your surviving spouse, but it is important to think ahead about what other family members can take your place so that the transition is as smooth as possible for your child.
It is also a good idea to prepare the guardian for this responsibility with as much information as you can provide about your disabled child. Even a simple letter with a list of medical providers, likes and dislikes, and what you want for your child can go a long way in helping the successor guardian make things easier for your child.
Financial Security for the Adult With Special Needs
Your child with special needs most likely will have limitations on his or her ability to earn income throughout their lifetime. This means that, despite a desire to treat all of your children equally, you may have to allocate more resources for your disabled beneficiary than for other children you have without special needs.
In addition, even if your child is legally competent, he or she may not function at a high enough level to effectively manage the inheritance. This means you may want to create a trust and have his or her inherited assets held in the trust.
If you want assets to go directly to your children instead of to your spouse, or want anything other than an equal distribution among all of your children, you have to have at least a will. If you want to ensure that someone you trust will be responsible for managing your disabled child's assets after you are gone, you are going to need a combination of wills and trusts, including a special needs trust or supplemental needs trust, and appointment of an appropriate trustee to help manage the assets your child receives.
Protecting Your Child's Eligibility For Benefits
Many people with special needs are eligible for federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI). They also may qualify for other need-based federal, state, or local public benefit programs. These sources of income from public benefit programs can be critically important for your child throughout his or her lifetime, especially after you and your spouse are gone or unable to take care of their needs.
You don't want to jeopardize eligibility when your child suddenly receives assets in an inheritance, but you likely don't want to leave your child out of your estate plan. Many parents address this by setting up a special needs trust to hold these assets for the personal with a disability. The trust should also to set out clear guidance for the trustee who will administer and oversee the trust assets. If set up correctly the assets in that trust will not count in determination of continued eligibility for benefits.
In Summary: The Documents You Will Need
Your estate plan should include:
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We hope the information above about special needs planning has been helpful. Of course your estate plan needs to take care of all of your goals and objectives as well- you can request your free copy of our book "The Road to Peace of Mind- What You Need to Know About Estate Planning" to become familiar with the basic elements of a plan that protects your adult children, minor children and other family members. Just click on the book image to preview the first chapter, or the button below to request your free copy.